learning commons graphic
Tuesday, November 6, 2012 - 4:12pm

Construction is well under way on the new Learning Commons at the University of Iowa’s Main Library, and by late 2013, library patrons will be able to enjoy a tech-infused, 24-hour, comfy study space and one-stop academic help center. The new Food for Thought café will feature an expanded menu including hot paninis and fruit smoothies, as well as espresso and gourmet coffees.

As the improvements are made, the library and its existing Food for Thought café will remain open for business. Library visitors do need to use the north entrance, since the south doors will remain closed for the project’s duration and a new east-side entrance is being created as part of the renovation. But once inside, visitors will find all of the library’s familiar features.

Students will still have access to quiet study spaces in afternoons, evenings, and weekends, and throughout the day on the building’s upper floors. There are still plenty of computers—those displaced by construction walls on the first floor were moved to the ITC on the second floor.

Librarians will still be available to assist, and a consolidated service desk is located on the first floor. That’s now the hub for book/audiovisual, laptop, and reserve check-outs, audiovisual/media viewing, answers to information and e-resource questions, and basic tech support for printers and scanners.

“Patrons can expect all of the same services and amenities they’re accustomed to finding at the Main Library—just perhaps in a different spot,” says Associate University Librarian Hope Barton. “We’ve worked hard to minimize the impact of the construction on students and other library users.”

Designed with significant input from students, the Learning Commons will provide an “intellectual hub” with space for 500-plus users. The 37,000-square-foot space is the product of a partnership among Information Technology Services (ITS), University Libraries, and the Office of the Provost.

“The Learning Commons is focused, first and foremost, on furthering the academic success of students,” says University Librarian Nancy Baker. “The staff will provide students with a ‘concierge’ experience. They’ll answer common academic, library, and technology questions and point students to the resources they need to succeed, like help with their research, writing, or tutoring.”

Features of the project include 18 group-study spaces, 100 desktop and laptop computers, a 45-seat TILE (Transform, Interact, Learn, Engage) classroom with glass walls and sliding doors, printers and scanners, TVs and projectors, and multimedia resources.

“Our design team spent a lot of time watching how students study, and particularly noticed how much they leveraged technology in their daily work habits. This space, with its multimedia resources, collaboration technologies, and wall-to-wall wireless, is reflective of the way today’s students integrate technology into their lives,” says ITS Learning Spaces Director Chris Clark.

When students and researchers need a break from their studies, they’ll be able to head over to the new made-to-order deli at the Food for Thought café inside the library’s Learning Commons.

Diners can build a sandwich or panini from a medley of ingredients: meats such as roast beef, turkey, ham, or salami; breads such as wheat berry, sub rolls, sourdough, whole wheat, asiago rolls, ciabatta or focaccia; cheeses such as American, Swiss, pepper jack, cheddar, or provolone; and veggies and sauces such as red onions, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, flavored mayos, or dijon mustard.

Or, hungry customers can select from pre-made items like sushi, hummus, and an array of salads: chef, Caesar, chicken, spinach and berry, marinated steak, southwest turkey, cobb, or blackened chicken. They’ll also have plenty of options when it comes to the fruit smoothies and coffee offerings.

The food is one strong enticement, but perhaps the foremost feature of the Learning Commons is its versatility. As Associate Provost Beth Ingram notes, the Learning Commons is many kinds of study spaces and services all rolled into one—as well as a place students can socialize, dine, and relax.

“With technology, information, and expertise in one location, it’s a very flexible space. Students can study with a group or by themselves, have a coffee with friends, attend a workshop, and get answers to questions about resources, technology, or tutoring services,” Ingram says. “We’re excited to see the project come to completion so students can start making the most of the new space.”

Follow the progress on the Learning Commons website.